Friday, September 09, 2005

 

Calendars

One of the constant challenges of deaning is mediating between the faculty/academic calendar and the twelve-month administrative calendar. Most of the non-academic side of the college – fundraising, noncredit, back office functions, business & finance, facilities, etc. – works on a twelve-month schedule. The faculty is attuned to the September-to-May calendar, with predictable peaks (December, early May) and valleys (late September, February, summers).

This isn’t a big deal when the two sides work separately, but it makes collaboration difficult. Returning from summer break, the faculty are brimming with ideas for ways to improve the college, and many of those ideas are damn good. (Some of them are so good, I’m not even going to share them yet. Must protect delicate orchid from cold wind of reality...) For the next month or so, they’ll be eager to work with whomever they need to, to make those ideas happen. Then midterms will hit. Then drop week, Thanksgiving, and the don’t-talk-to-me rush to and through final exams.

What this means is that if these ideas are to have any hope of becoming reality, I have to work like a crazed ferret for the next month or so, before the window closes. Impressing upon the rest of the college the need to pay attention to these (annual, predictable) academic rhythms isn’t easy.

The mutual lack of understanding comes out in different ways. Class schedule deadlines are determined not by when it makes sense for department chairs, but by how long it takes the printer to make copies. So it’s not unusual for the department chairs to be asked to proof the schedules during the first week of classes, when they’re usually struggling just to deal with adjuncts who vanish (it happens every semester) and students desperately finagling their schedules. Faculty searches, when they occur at all, occur when the budget people tell us that we really, honestly, truly have the money; if that happens in May, so be it. I’ve made arguments upwards about the need to attune our searches to the (annual, predictable) faculty hiring cycle, but with limited success.

To my mind, this is the chronic problem with ‘faculty governance,’ or even ‘consensus,’ as a model for running a college. For valid reasons, the amount of attention faculty can and will pay to institutional housekeeping will wax and wane over the course of the year. This is not true for the rest of the college. When the faculty turn their attention elsewhere, one of two things happens: either the idea simply falls off the desk (at which point we get the standard complaints about The Administration not listening), or it gets implemented by other people, with the changes one would usually expect when delegating tasks to other people (at which point we get the standard complaints about adminstrative power grabs). If I’m not careful, too many of the wonderful ideas that develop when intelligent people return from extended breaks simply won’t come to pass, and the hoary complaints about ‘nothing ever changes’ or ‘nobody listens’ will surface again.

It’s the difference between sprinting (the faculty model) and distance running (the administrative model). Academic deans do both. This is why we’re always tired.

Maybe I should stash gatorade in my desk...

Comments:
You know, DD, between your candid commentary and watching my own dean look steadily more haggard with each week, I know that I can never be an admin person. You have a tough, tough job, and I admire you for being able to do it.
 
One place I've found myself straddling lately is in terms of insurance coverage. The state is just not set up to deal with semesters, nor with people who are not hired until the last minute (even if they've been there for years). HR is strict, cutting people off without looking into individual cases (probably have too many) and the state insurance people are kind but firm about all of the forms being filled out yet again. So I find myself with x coverage in the summer, y for a month in Sept until we all realize that yes, I'm here again, and z for the rest of the semester until we start the dance over again.

I imagine you doing this sort of juggling on an infinite set of projects!
 
Interesting analogies to distinguish academic from calendar years. Our system is such that we do our annual performance reports on the 12-month calendar Jan-Dec and so, in Year 1, it's impossible to get a good evaluation (re: anything but "average") because they are juding your fall semester as an entire year. The same thing happens if you go on sabbatical. Raises, however, are tied to the academic year. Interesting challenges you all face. So far I'm not convinced that administration is the way to go . . . but maybe that is just further down the road. . . .
 
Wait until you're also juggling your son's academic calendar (since elementary school holidays and university holidays - esp. spring break - never seem to overlap.)

I have several faculty coaching clients who've been bitching about trying to think about what to teach next year when they're just getting their fall classes started -- now I can have them read this.
 
TNerd- When I was chair of the math dept., I suggested to the scheduling powers that we would also benefit greatly if we could "tweak" the schedule by looking at the current enrollments (because of the sequential nature of math offerings). This meant moving the proofing deadline to the end of the second week. I was first greeted with a glazed stare (similar to that of a chicken). Fortunately our dean saw the wisdom in my suggestion.
 
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